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The Caliph Stork
by [?]


One fine afternoon, Chasid, Caliph of Bagdad, reclined on his divan. Owing to the heat of the day he had fallen asleep, and was now but just awakened, feeling much refreshed by his nap. He puffed at a long-stemmed rosewood pipe, pausing now and then to sip the coffee handed him by an attentive slave, and testifying his approval of the same by stroking his beard. In short, one could see at a glance that the Caliph was in an excellent humor.

Of all others, this was the hour when he might be most easily approached, as he was now quite indulgent and companionable; and therefore it was the custom of his Grand Vizier, Mansor, to visit him every day at this time.

As usual, he came to-day; but, as was unusual with him, his expression was quite serious.

The Caliph, removing the pipe from his mouth for a moment, said–

“Why do you wear so sober a face, Grand Vizier?”

The Vizier crossed his arms on his breast, bowed low before his master, and made answer–

“Sire, whether my face be sober or no, I know not. But beneath the castle walls stands a trader, who has such beautiful wares that I cannot help regretting that I have no spare money.”

The Caliph, who had long wished for an opportunity to do his Vizier a favor, sent his black slave below to bring up the trader. The slave soon returned with the man, who was short and stout, of dark brown complexion, and clothed in rags. He carried a box containing all manner of wares: strings of pearls, rings, and richly-chased pistols, cups and combs. The Caliph and Grand Vizier looked them all over, and finally the Caliph selected a fine pair of pistols for Mansor and himself, as well as a comb for the Vizier’s wife.

Now just as the merchant was about to close his box, the Caliph espied a small drawer therein, and desired to know if it contained still other valuables. By way of reply, the trader opened the drawer, disclosing a little box containing a blackish powder, and a paper covered with singular writing, that neither the Caliph nor Mansor was able to read.

“These two articles,” explained the trader, “came into my possession through a merchant who found them on the street in Mecca. I do not know what they contain, but, for a small consideration, you are welcome to them, as I can make nothing of them.”

The Caliph, who took pleasure in preserving old manuscripts in his library, even though he might not be able to read them, bought both the paper and the box, and dismissed the merchant. Then, curious to know what the manuscript contained, he inquired of the Vizier if he knew of any one who could decipher it.

“Most gracious master and benefactor,” replied the Vizier, “near the great mosque lives a man called Selim the Learned, who understands all languages. Let him be summoned; perhaps he might know these secret characters.”

The learned Selim was soon brought.

“Selim,” began the Caliph, “it is said that you are very learned. Look for a moment at this writing, and see if you can make it out. If you can read it, you shall receive a new holiday cloak from me; if you cannot, you will get instead twelve lashes on the back and twenty-five on the soles of your feet, for being misnamed Selim the Learned.”

Selim made an obeisance, saying, “Thy will be done, O Sire!”

He then examined the writing long and attentively, suddenly exclaiming, “If this be not Latin, Sire, then give me to the hangman!”

“Read what is written there, if it is Latin!” commanded the Caliph.

Selim thereupon began to translate as follows:

Man, whoever thou art, that findeth this, praise Allah for His goodness. He who takes a pinch of this powder, at the same time saying,
MUTABOR, will be able to transform himself into any animal, and will also understand the language of animals. Whenever he wishes to re-assume the human form, he shall bow three times towards the East and pronounce the same word. But take care that thou dost not laugh while thou art transformed, or the magic word would vanish utterly from thy memory, and thou wouldst remain an animal.